Entries tagged with “Preparing”.

Let me start off by being very clear about two things. First, I’m a planner and second, I’m a worrier. Oh, and a third thing – my husband is not either of those. He’s spontaneous, and more carefree. I’ve spent close to a year planning and researching this Camino de Santiago adventure via the internet and guide books. My husband and I made reservations at the hotels at least 3 months before our departure date. This is why what I’m about to describe is such an odd state of affairs.

At dinner one evening Dave, the third “musketeer” on our great Camino adventure casually asked us if our passports were close to expiring. Tony’s expires in 8 years, but mine would expire in September. He went on to tell us a story of a traveling companion who was not allowed to board the plane because his passport expired less than 6 months from his departure date. The country they were traveling to had a rule that all visitors’ passports must be valid for more than 6 months from the trip date in order to enter the country. We listened, then brushed off his warning. That is, until 14 days before our trip. I was checking the entry requirements for Canada, where we have a layover and didn’t see anything special. So, I clicked on the entry requirements of Spain. There in my screen, in digital black and white it stated clearly that passports must be valid for 90 days past the trip. Mine was 2 weeks short of that!

Frantically, I searched the internet for the US Dept. of State information on passport renewal. To renew by mail and pay for expediting wasn’t a possibility since the estimated turnaround time was 2-3 weeks. Since I was traveling in 14 days or less, I could renew in person. The only possible options for me were to either take a day off and go to the passport agency in person to renew it and receive it the same day, or pay an expediting service around $330 to do the same thing. So, I followed the instructions on screen and attempted to schedule an appointment at the San Francisco passport agency. I was told that there were no appointments in the next 14 days. I called the next day and the same thing. However, I navigated the voice menus and spoke to a representative of the State dept. who informed me that there would be a cancellation and to keep trying. Alternately, if I was not able to get an appointment in the next week, I could call back and they could schedule an emergency appointment – but ONLY if it were less than 5 days from my departure. Baffling, I know.

While searching the internet for the exact address of the San Francisco passport agency, I stumbled upon a page on yelp.com, a internet community where people can post reviews of restaurants, local businesses, etc. Why did yelp have a page on the passport agency? Why would there be reviews about a government office? After all, most of us know how a review for the DMV would read. However, I was astounded to see over 1 dozen reviews stating that although the US government website, human operators and the automated appointment system insist that you will NOT be allowed to enter the building without an appointment confirmation number, if you arrive early and have all necessary paperwork, you will be allowed to enter and given a number. If all paperwork is in order, pay the additional $60, you are given a receipt and a time later in the day when you may return to pick it up. That’s it! That’s all! How can that be?! It sounded like “no fuss, no muss.” If it were just one or two reviewers who stated that, I might not have taken them seriously, but there were over a dozen people who wrote about how quick and painless it was.

So, after getting my boss’ ok to take a day off, I convinced my dad, a San Francisco native to drive to the “City” with me. We arrived at the office a little after 9:00am and read the lettering on the front door “Appointments Only”. There were no guards at the door, so we proceeded up the elevator. We got off and were met by no less than 3 armed guards and metal detectors that rival airport security. The lady behind the bulletproof glass at window 1 asked for my confirmation number. No appointment? Go to window 3. At window 3, my passport and travel itinerary were reviewed and I was given a number. In under 1 hour and 30 minutes, my number was called, paperwork approved, fees paid and a time given for me to return to pick it up. We returned a half hour before the specified time and there was already a line on the sidewalk of folks like me, who just wanted a new passport – in a hurry! A security guard was outside, making sure that everyone had their receipts and was ready to pass through metal detectors. There was something about him that reminded me distinctly of Robert on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” No matter, I was there, clutching my receipt and went up to the 5th floor and through the metal detectors where I traded it for my brand new, chip-embedded passport. Mission accomplished.

credencial del peregrinoWe’ll be walking 300 km. in 13 days and at the end, we want to receive the compostela from the Church, stating that we made it to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims who can prove that they have walked, biked or ridden on horseback for at least 200 km of the Camino may receive a compostela, which is a certificate which has been issued by the Office of Pilgrims in the cathedral of Santiago since the 14th century.  The heavy paper credencial or “pilgrim passport” is stamped at the local church or pilgrim office at every stage of the Camino.

Until recently, I assumed that we would obtain a credencial when we started our journey in Leon, Spain. However, while reading other pilgrims’ accounts of their journey, I discovered that there is an organization in the USA called American Pilgrims on the Camino. This non-profit organization has been authorized by the Pilgrims Office in Santiago de Compostela to issue credenciales. Perfect! If you live in the USA and are planning to walk the Camino, requests can be made via their web site and arrive in about 1 month. The site is: http://www.americanpilgrims.com/about/welcome.html.

I requested our credenciales in early March and about 3 weeks ago, we received them in the mail.  I felt like a kid waiting for that special letter to arrive in the mailbox. The day I open the envelope and saw my name printed in black and white, I felt another step closer to our journey.

In late February, I went boot shopping:

After trying on the boots at a local store, I decided to order my boots from Zappos.com since I have a gift card. Even though I’ve used Zappos numerous times, I’m always surprised how fast they arrived. I ordered on a Sunday, and Monday afternoon they were on my porch!

I decided on a Keen brand boot. The model is Voyaguer and they are mid hiking boots, which were recommended by everyone at REI and several friends.  There are plenty of great customer reviews about shoes on the web, too.  To tell you the truth, I’m not sure how I would “do my research” about equipment without the internet.  Equipment, including shoes and hiking boots have really changed since the late 1970’s! Everything is so light weight and much more comfortable. Can you imagine what pilgrims from the Middle Ages would think if they could see the kind of gear we have nowadays?

Now I’ll just need some nice cushy socks to wear. The socks will need to wick away moisture, and because I’ve suffered from foot pain in the past, I’m not skimping on the socks or shoes. From the first person accounts of pilgrims on the web, foot care is top priority!

The more we plan, the more I realize that we’ll need to be committed to training for this adventure. Unfortunately, the nice sunny and warm weather we enjoyed in early February at del Valle Regional Park (near Pleasanton) is gone and the rain has returned.  We’re anxious to start taking long walks, but the weather just isn’t cooperating.

In February we went to REI to look around and ended up buying our packs. After 4 and a half years of talking about walking the Camino, we’re finally going to walk it. And today, I realized that it is really going to happen this year.

Even though we’d like to walk the entire 800km Camino from the border of France, we will have to be satisfied with walking 300 km from Leon. The following are my impressions after a shopping trip to our local REI Store:

Walking into REI is like walking into a foreign country, where everyone is speaking a “sport.” Each section of the store is bursting with merchandise, and sales clerks who are animatedly answering questions, fitting customers and demonstrating how to use equipment. It’s a bit intimidating for us, since we’re novice outdoor types. Yes, we’ve been camping, ride bikes around the back roads on the weekends and have been known to tackle day hikes on dusty trails around California.  None of that has really prepared us for the mission this summer.

Looking around the store, I don’t know what to look at first. Everything is shiny and pretty, even if I don’t know what it’s for, I think I want it! I feel really ignorant and yet need to make some decisions about these toys and how they work.  We head to the backpack section. Luckily, after we explain a little about our summer trip, the sales clerk covers the basics with us and makes some suggestions as to what type of pack each of us should use.

We both leave with 40 liter packs, which we believe will be more than big enough to carry the 2 changes of clothing, toiletries and lightweight sleeping bag we’ll need. We know we’ll be back to buy the bags and the hiking boots… and probably a lot more we haven’t imagined yet.  And we thought this would be a “cheap” trip except the plane ticket!

This is the first post on our Camino de Santiago blog… We’re preparing for our mini-adventure in June 2010. We’ll be trekking from Leon to Santiago de Compostela, which is approximately 300 km.   Before we leave, we’ll be posting how we are preparing – from equipment to hiking around Northern California to get into shape… and practicing the pilgrim greeting of Buen Camino! (Good Road).